|Home/Mountaineering/Yosemite Rock information|
Hi everyone! I'm back from a week in the vertical, it's still strange to be able to stand on the ground and to walk. I'm writing this as a way of staying in touch, and also to say thanks to the many people who've helped me on the way to the top of El Capitan. I soloed a route on the right side called Tangerine Trip, one of the more popular (read easier) El Cap routes, but still requiring a fair amount of savvy (rated old fashioned A3).
Having not done any aid climbing for about 3 years, there was a lot to find, fix organize and buy. I was worried I might not "have it" anymore. I started hiking up loads, and eventually did the bottom pitch late on my first climbing day. I kept meeting people on the trail who were talking about doing the same route; and sure enough, the next day there were 3 parties ahead of me. I climbed a half a pitch further and waited for 3 hours on a ledge for 2 guys from Sacramento They were going really slow and doing half pitches at a time. The leader had these "etriers" (aid ladders made of webbing for moving up on the fixed protection) made out of 2 adjustable length daisies. An interesting idea, but not a good one - it was painful to watch the akward process, like having to change the length or your legs to meet the ground with every step. He got stuck in the relatively easy crack - the only straight-in crack on the route. Out of pure self-interest I offered up my Leki collapsing ski-pole cheat stick (really helpful, more about the Stick later), which he pulled up on a trail rope and used to skip between some fixed gear. He still couldn't get through. I finally fixed my rope at the pitch 2 anchors and went home. They also both smoked, which was a drag at the stance since I couldn't leave. They obeyed my clean air on clean rock requests for awhile but low blood n icotine and stress were no match for manners.
Next it day was Team Italia ahead of me, with only the Canadian-American Trio, now a duo, to be found, but a very slow moving French pair whom I had seen on the load hiking day, and had fixed ropes to the top of 3,, reappeared at about 2pm. By the end of the day they had finished 4, fixed their ropes, and disappeared again! Due to my late start and not wanting to hurry up and wait, I made it about half way through 4 and fixed there. Somewhere in these first days I had a great night sleeping at the base - a very nice spot and less crowded than the rock!
So another late start and I finished the pitch 4 downward traverse (the weirdest of the climbing), mostly on fixed pitons, one of which pulled on me after holding all these other people. I was so surprised I saved the rotted webbing and rusty baby angle as a souvenir. I wielded my hammer for the first time to drive a lost arrow/knifeblade stack and get by. But of courseI cleaned it, and I must admit I kind of enjoyed the Italian leader's confusion in how to make the move. OK, I finally told him and he called for the pins. Found out later that the annoying Chinese Water Torture seepage which drips down from pitch 4 makes that roof crack wet, so the pitons quickly rust and loosen. I made it about 3/4 through the long left traverse which follows, the first aid of difficulty, before it started to darken, fixed, and went to the ground early, as planned, to prepare for the real blastoff. The Italians also went down.
It was really cool to notice the clouds come in and lighting and thunder, and finally an intense downpour that had a full waterfall coming down to the right, and dousing some luckless climbers on other routes. Cool because the rainfall was at least 70ft out from the wall at my height (one of my reasons for doing this routeLate the next day, the original French guys, now up to 3 in number, jugged up to the top of 4 (I was now above on 5), hung out, seemed to be drinking and partying, and bivyed. I never saw them again, whether the following day's rain discouraged them, or they just came to celebrate with no intention of doing the climb, Je ne sais pas.
I think I came back in the evening, went up, and spent the first Wall night at the top of 4, thinking if it was good enough for someone else's soir*e, why not? There had daily been some clouds and mild afternoon rains, but the next day it really clouded up and rained hard - I think left I hiked some gear up later in the dark (I was still cons tantly re-thinking and re-doing things). I left the Valley for a couple of days to work in SF, since starting in bad weather didn't appeal.
The rain washed most everyone away, but 2-3 new parties were on the way up (I had lost count by then) when I came back - I remember some Germans wh ose leader started in climbing shoes and changed them after the 3rd class start to Pitch 1, some pretty competent Japanese, Team Italia, and an Ami Foursome or Threesome with load carrying girlfriend who gave it up when I told them I was also on the route. Lordy!
I think I took another break day before what was to be the big push to the top and returned in the dark to sleep at the base, an even nicer night than before. I met some climbers who got on a route to the left, but their support person was often camping up there just because it was so much more pleasant than the Valley Ghetto scene. In the afternoon the Japanese were just ahead of my fixed ropes with the Italians and some new Germans below. Another late start (is there a pattern here? - soloing there's no one else to be responsible to, a tremendous luxury, which also encourages any lurking laziness to come forth in full glory, meaning sloooooow progress). I got the haul bag up to the top of 4, and did part of 5 that day. As I pulled the bag up the extra sack tore off in the trees, and down I went down retrieve it later. making for about 800ft of jugging that day!
The next morning I dropped some clothes and my rainfly, and started feeling some unpleasant twinges in my elbows, the left especially, my lead hand in the 330ft free hanging jug up to the top of 4. That much repetition was bringing on the same kind of tendonitis you get from too much hard free climbing. With my housemate Andy out of commission for the rest of the season due to pushing it, I felt reluctant to commit to finishing - I wouldn't have enough rope to descend soon and would have to climb for at least 5 days pain or no. I briefly reached the Japanese belayer at the top of 5 on my return. The shuffle as he left the belay and we talked in very broken english was comical - I thought of some possible Jackie Chan stunt scene as he almost kicked me in the face.
Anyway, you can understand if the narrative's getting a little blurred. I decided to go down and rest the arm, then went back up after a day off. I was actually getting a little embarassed to keep showing up again at the house after so many farewells. That day I climbed to the top of 7 ,the point to me which felt like really being on the route and above the masses. Some really nice mellow aid on the "Gold Corner" pitch 7, and my first experience with the dreaded Tangerine Trip rivets, dropping almost all of my wing nuts, needed for securing the ends of the worst ones, in the process. At one point the Japanese who were out of site above me cut their haul bag loose and it suddenly swung by, kind of eerie to see a moving bag but no owners.
Actually 7 intimidated me at first, since I thought I'd have to free the ugly chimney and couldn't figure out how to wedge my gear and rope enshrouded body in there. Then I remembered the Soloist's First Commandment "Thou Shalt Cheat Whenever Possible", and also that I had cams big enough to aid it, which I did shamelessly.
After the bivy on top of 7 I woke to that ground glass grinding in the elbows feeling, and was in pain stuffing the bivy stuff back in bags. Down I went this time on all 3 of my ropes. A long drop but very scenic. I stoppped and chatted with the Italians who wondered what was wrong, as well as some Germans lower down - definately the most unusual position I've ever been in during a conversation.
I want to mention that all the bivies on the route except the last were totally hanging, some on so much overhang the portaledge was a couple of feet away from the wall. After several nights I got a reasonably good system together to do the myriad chores involved. It was actually quite comfortable considering. I rested much better that I had on previous routes, so the planning and gearing up paid off. I climbed with more efficiency and less effort than ever too, so I wasn't exhausting myself to the same degree. My first night on the wall I had been on the border of being too cold to sleep (and it wasn't a real cold night), so on my return to the city I got the warmest North Face synth sleeping bag I could find, which was great for warmth, but it was cut for someone an inch or so shorter than me, which made for a lot of worming and squirming ( and tilting the ledge to and fro) in getting in and out. I got better at not dropping things, though on the next to last morning I managed to drop my pager, which I had brought for a second watch and my only alarm clock. A costly mistake. I actually got a page on the Wall which I wouldn't have bothered to answer even on the ground. But I generally ate well and slept more than I normally do - not that there was much else to do at night but daydream. I brought a climbing mag that I had already read most of - it went in the trash after the first night of reading the off-articles and ads.
Winners in the comfort zone were the warm sleeping bag, evenually figuring out how to set up the ledge (more or less) so it wasn't so high that the webbing strangled me, or otherwise ensnared in all of the hanging gear. Boxes of cookies and chocolate malt balls, which I don't normally eat, were very good. I ate 3-5 "bars" per day, which tasted better or worse depending on how hungry I was. But the NutraBlast Mocha Madness flavor was good if it didn't get too warm and turn to syrup in the sun. Their Peanut Butter Perfection flavor sounded good but was so sticky that I had to struggle to get the wrapper off, and ended up eating wrapper bits anyway, all for a bar that was mostly corn syrup and tasted more towards taffy than peanut. Cliff Bars were consistently OK. I brought some real apples and carrots, but found that I wasn't wanting fresh food. The cold cans of soup were good - I looked for lower sodium and fat kinds, since heavy saly foods don't work for me when I'm active. Except for the Pea Soup. It SEEMED like a good idea - thick rich, hearty. But it looked and had the consistency of Green Sludge, not even adding water helped. Eventually I gave up and ate it in chunks. The best improv was to add a can of tuna and some otherwise stale pretzels to a vegetable soup, and Viola! Fish Stew with soup crackers. I also had high fiber cereal in the morning, which was key in getting the business done right on time in the mornings, before I had to put everything away and climb. Although I had to convince myself several times that I was eating more than Psylum husks and protein powder. I missed a day completly at the end of the climb when I only had some bars and tuna to eat. I didn't feel bad though.
I have to thank "Fly'n" Brain McCray for the right-on gear beta, and especially for making me a great funkness device and special cinch head rivet hangers, which I used over and over - I almost always felt totally bomber on the rivets. Brian is truly both an amazing free and aid climber, and after going as slow as I did on moderate aid I start to appreciate his climb ing of much harder routes much. Of course, his Piece de Resistance contribution was helping me modify the Gri Gri belay device for soloing. It worked much better than my previous stuff and I really felt secure on the system. I almost wanted to fall just for the ultimate proof. I finally did and all was well.
This was my first Wall experience with the now correct poop tube - after seeing all the disgusting trash at the base, and with so many people on the route, I didn't feel good about tossing bags of shit off, so I got the PVC parts on a rest day trip to Oakhurst and built a sturdy one. The problems came after several days, it's actually hard to keep stuffing the bags deeper into the tube to leave room for the next - the results of pushing too hard were pretty disgusting. I least I had brought disinfectant - that was another bit hit along with Bag Balm, and lots of moisturizer to keep the hand damage down. My fingernails pulled away from the beds, and I kept hitting my fingers on the rock, very painful. I had some great shoes from Hans, the first wall where my feet have been absolutely pain free. I took Aspirin and Ibuprofen for the elbows but ended up using it more to take the edge off the various bodily pains I was getting. I'll bring lot's more in the future. Also I would bring more cloth towels for cleaning up various fluid spills, clean socks for every day, and less other clothes since I was not in the mood to take the extra time to change. There wasn't anyone to look good for anyway.
So after several days of elbow R&R and some time with people (I had be en mostly working alone for about 2 weeks by now) I was back hoping to go for it, with my stuff still on top of pitch 7. The fates seemed to be with me as the route was totally clear of traffic.
I started later in the day with intention of reaching the top of the now 600' of freehanging lines, maybe climbing a little, and resting the arms until tomorrow. It seemed to work - I had minor twinges but no further real pains.
I chugged along at about 2 pitches per day, through mostly slightly overhanging rock. One of the hardest parts for me was on pitch 8 where you have to freeclimb right about 10 feet on sloping face holds with no way to cheat. With the heavy gear, rope drag, and non-stick (seemingly) shoes I was totally groveling. I would lower and try to swing off the last rivet, get some mediocre foot holds, cling onto small edges and then desperately try to reach something else as my tension rope came taught and pulled me back, then I would melt off the footholds and careen back below the start.
I tried different heights, holds, etc. for at least a hour to no avail. Finally somehow I got a little farther over and reached a slightly better knob with enough slack to stand up. As my feet started the slide, The Commandment and the word "hook" flashed up in my mind. I managed to get the big hook on an aider and over the only feature around - it was enough to hold me while I let out slack and moved up to easier ground.
Pitch 9 diagonals left just above a stone ramp which you would hit if you fell in the wrong place. That seemed to be the only danger spot in the route. It seemed a little funny to be aiding so close above above a ramp I could normally walk on. Pitch 11 had me moving up into a chimney. I had to really push to get my body and hardware in there. Then it was up a crowded overhanging corner on thin pieces - strenuous to hold my body in and up in order to reach higher placements. Sometimes I could only move about a foot and a half at a time.
Pitch 14 was adventuresome. I had fixed part way up the A3 corner the day before, so I left my top anchor in as pro when I placed, tested, and moved onto the next piece. This section was almost all small wired nuts. Again, I had to move out and up due to the overhanging corner. The change in the direction of pull as I moved yanked the nut and I was off with a shout. It's really better to fall with no warning - you don't get so much adrenaline and shakiness after. It was a clean 20 footer, mostly due due the slack in the system as the belay anchor shifted from downward to an upward pull. This lifted the haulbag which helped to soften the catch. My big fear during the route was that I'd pull a piece that I was standing really high on, while holding onto the rock with my hands. I'd be left hanging high and dry off my arms with nothing to do but bicycle my feet and contemplate the inevitable fall until I either pumped out or jumped. A disturbing thought but it never happened.
Higher on 14 there's some more free climbing on sloper holds. This time I could use the Stick to reach a buttonhead rivet off the top step of my highest placement. Problem was that the skinny biner on top of the Stick didn't rest very securely in the small gap between the rivet head and the rock. I was very gingerly trying to move up while keeping my weight low and on the rock as much as possible, which was almost not at all. It looked like the biner would come off if I breathed hard in the wrong direction. And I couldn't get off the Stick to cheat to the next fixed piece either and no way to get a real rivet hanger on with the Stick there. After much whimpering I managed to thread a tiny 2 mm cord around the rivet and under the Stick. I was wondering if 2mm was even supposed to hold body weight. It made awful sort of plucked guitar string sounds as I weighted it and the knots tightened. But it held and I got out of there.
After a few placements in a roof crack I was on Pitch 15's "endless ri vet ladder". 160' of almost identical moves. With one hook placement thrown in for variety. I had been feeling secure on the rivets, so I didn't mind only having protection on every 5th or sixth. It still took awhile to do; I found the angle to be tiring and was having to hang on my harness and rest fairly often.
There seemed to be a soloist and another party of 2 women on Aurora, the next route left. The women had started a bit below me but slowly got above. I don't know who they were but the aid is supposed to be fairly hard over there and you don't see very many female aid climbers anyway. One of them was speaking to some men on the ground in a language I didn't recognize - maybe Slavic. She had a fairly high pitched voice so I could often hear her talking during the climbing or at night. I hoped to eventually meet them but I never caught up. Still it was some sort of company and I found myself wanting to move faster to catch sight of them.
The weather was quite good for this time of year. The wind was coming up by late morning, and a few times it gusted hard enough to blow me around. But mostly it was just an annoyance (I remembered stories of cabin bound settlers being driven to acts of violence by wind). I had a good assortment of clothes to keep my temperature comfortable, and some good sturdy Safety/Sunglasses which didn't even look half bad. It was the first time I'd worn contacts on a Wall, they were great and not all that much trouble, which is what I'd always feared in the past. I lost a couple, but I wear disposables and it's been normal that they to come out at around the time they should be retired.
The Sun was out a lot - only a few afternoons of partial clouds which cleared up overnight. Even my SPF 50 Banana Boat (Day-O, Day on de Wall and me Wanna Go Home!) Sunscreen didn't keep me from getting a little burned. The last few days were stunningly clear. I had an amazing sunset as I finished pitch 17 (the last real climbing) onto the first ledge on the route. I could see well out over all the main Yosemite formations and way into the high peaks from on top.
Some of these views literally brought tears of joy to my eyes - I felt so elated, blessed, and humbled to be there. Somehow it just made sense in a very deep way that it's hard for me to get into words. The views down and across to other parts of El Cap were likewise stunning - certainly the best scenery of any Wall I've done.
Summit fever kicked in for me on Pitch 17 with only a short section of easy aid between me and ground - I flew up the corner like a baggage laden Santa Claus practicing chimney exits. The first I had really felt like boogying on the climb. I had to kiss the scraggy beaten down manzanita up there as it was the first living thing I had encountered all week, not counting bugs. I slep t and just rested my body well into late the next morning on that dusty, water bottle and trash filled ledge, it felt like Eden after so many nights hanging.
I figured the final 5.6 to get off from there was free-soloable. A good call as I moved slowly but securely with much less weight, and didn't have to return to the ledge after I topped out. It was hard to stay motivated to keep working, but I eventually got the haul up and sorted out gear to carry down. I had run out of food the previous night - dinner was my last can of tuna (still tasted great), breakfast/lunch was another can that I found at the top. I really appreciated the benevolence of those who had topped out with food as well as water to share, though morning tuna isn't something I'd otherwise choose.
The water worked out perfectly - I forced myself to drink all my remaining liter but a token swallow before the descent. I had been climbing longer than planned, but due to the coolness I wasn't needing that much water on the route. My back was really tired, it was hard to even keep sitting up to sort gear. I took frequent short breaks to lay down and moan, and one outright nap for at least an hour.
I watched a sturdy looking blond guy come UP the descent trail towards me - turns out he was a Slovenian Climber/Photographer, en route to supply a summit camp from which he would rap down to photograph a famous (I hadn't heard of him, but it's not my thing) Slovenian mountain climber who was soloing the Way Hard Reticent Wall. It was eventually to become a book about the guy, and the whole affair seemed to be sponsored by Camp, a big Italian gear company. He had nice stuff, too. Anyway, he seemed glad to chat and eventually even offered to schlep part of my gear on his way down. I think he probably could have taken the whole thing, but I left my Portaledge, Food Bucket, and Trash Bag - bulky but light items. He did indeed later pick the stuff up and deliver to the Valley Floor - Very Much Thanks to Mattais from Slovenia, I'll buy the book.
As we talked about this I mentioned wanting to buy him a beer or something, and he seemed a little, put off maybe? Or just like he didn't need to go there. I think that in a lot of other cultures you don't need to immediately (or ever) reciprocate someone's kindness. I think we kind of bind ourselves up with that here so it's harder to either give (you d on't want to make someone feel obligated) or receive (you might like the favor but not want to be obliged to figure out how to return it).
I caught up to two French Alpinistes from Chamonix who had just finished Zodiac - they let me rap with them and their big, heavy haul bags (I just rapped, they did the ropes and bags). That was nice. I made a big effort to get down quick, get to my car and return to give them a lift, but by the time I had done so they had almost gotten their own car back. I helped them tote a haul bag about 50m to the road though. They seemed a little relieved when we separated, I imagined that when you're tired it's hard to talk alot in another language and to be properly polite, I know it would be for me. But without all the weight I was feeling light and easy and fairly energetic. I waited in line about 45 minutes to eat at the Lodge salad bar, but it was really quite OK. I wasn't in a big rush to EAT, even though I would have expected to be really hungry after the climb and tuna breakfast.
So now I'm back and really ready to be with and climb with PEOPLE. Solitude and connection with the natural world are amesome and powerful, but connection back to others and sharing are what complete the picture for me. .
Special Thanks to Hans Florine who loaned me gear, and provided the basecamp , environment, and encouragement that helped me get there. To Lisa and Andy, my housemates and supporters, who are both youthful and wise. To Mom and Dad, who have given me a lifetime of support in what I have done and who I've tried to be. And finally to Liz, who for so long accepted and helped with my ongoing troubles around not climbing, and who inspired and guided me in learning to feel as well as to do.
View or add comments
|Home/ Mountaineering/ Yosemite Rock information|